Invite your writer-self to your evening out, but don’t let her monopolize it. One of the most difficult things about being a writer is trying to live your life in the moment and, at the same time, try to mentally record everything that you see for your current and future projects. There’s a constant struggle between living and observing. Last night I attended a local fire department event with my husband, and it just so happens that one of the characters in my next novel is a volunteer firefighter — which meant that although my intention was leave my writer hat at home for the night and just have a good time, I observed lots of things during the evening where the hatless writer in me would whisper in my ear, Oooh, that’s good! Remember that.
Generally, what I do in those situations is whip out my cell phone and then email myself whatever observation I’m trying to capture, so that I know it’s safe and preserved and then I can go back to the living part of the evening. Sometimes I’ll take my phone out ten times within the span of a few hours, but then once the business of writing is done I can go back to my herb-crusted salmon and dinner conversation. You might think that’s a bit disruptive (or obsessive), but for me it’s better than spending the entire night worrying that I’ll forget whatever it is I want to remember — I’ve tried it, and in the end I neither live nor observe, because I wind up spending the night worrying and forgetting.
I have been a New York Knicks fan for a long time. Very long. About twenty years, since the time Pat Riley joined the team as coach (before he became the enemy). And, coincidentally, the same amount of time, more or less, that I’ve been a professional writer. Last night’s crushing loss to the Boston Celtics made me realize how similar being a Knicks fan is to being a writer.
- It’s unbelievably stressful at times. When Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith go cold, as they did last night, it’s excruciating. Nothing is working. The ball goes in the air and you think, this is it, and then it bounces off the rim and is rebounded by the other team. I know that feeling as a writer, when the words just aren’t coming. You try and you try, but you just can’t make that basket. It sucks. Sisyphus has nothing on you.
- It’s unbelievably glorious at times. When Anthony or Smith or Raymond Felton scores a three-pointer at the buzzer or can’t miss a shot, it’s heaven. The basketball gods are smiling on you, birds are singing, the sky is filled with sunshine. Same as true when the words are flowing, as a writer. I become Spike Lee standing up from his courtside seat, pumping my fists.
- The road is looong. The Knicks haven’t won a championship in forty years. And when I tell you it’s been almost 20 years since we even PLAYED in a basketball championship, you should know that I have felt every one of those twenty years. A writing career is similar, filled with starts and stops, disappointments and victories, ups and downs. Accepted pitches and rejection letters come in the same day. Even, like the Knicks, my players have changed over the years — many of the magazines and websites I wrote for five years ago have folded or ceased operation, new ones taking their places. Every year is essentially a new season. Sure, there’s no championship to be had in writing — unless, of course, you’re vying for the Pulitzer and, hey, why not? — but it is goal-oriented. You want to get a piece in THAT magazine or THAT anthology or get picked up by THAT publisher. You work toward achieving whatever goal or game winner there is.
- Continue reading
Yesterday, the internet was abuzz with news that author Anne Rice posted a link on her Facebook page noting that a blogger had given her novel, Pandora, a bad review and proceeded to rip up the book (literally) for a decoupage project. For those of us who follow Rice on Facebook, she wrote her customary “Comments welcome” above this post, which she often does to promote discussion about various things — usually current events. Although she didn’t encourage anyone to, needless to say, many of Rice’s 740,000+ FB fans barged over to the blogger’s page and let her have it. And some of the comments left for this blogger were pretty hurtful.
Anytime an author interacts with a reviewer, particularly one who has given a bad review, sparks are bound to fly. I agree with the first line of this Mary Sue blog post which discusses the Anne Rice incident: “If there’s one valuable lesson a creator can learn, it’s not to engage with reviewers.” I just feel like there is nothing to be gained by confronting someone who posts a bad review. Everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion and shouldn’t have to defend it or justify it.
The other day, a blogger wrote (for the life of me, I can’t remember where — I read so many blogs!) that his grandfather told him never to look strangers in the eye, particularly when you see them acting erratically. You just keep walking. The blogger said he uses his grandfather’s advice when dealing with internet commenters — who, essentially, are strangers.
I agree. When faced with a poor review, rather than pull an Anne Rice or give into the temptation of confrontation, an author’s best recourse is to steer clear and just keep walking.
Today’s Debut Author Q&A features a very special writer to me and to this blog. Julia Munroe Martin has been a supporter of Baby Grand and Making ‘Baby Grand’ for as long as I can remember. It is a privilege and an honor to have her here today to talk about her debut novel, Desired to Death. Her answers to my questions made me think about my own fiction journey – our paths are very similar, our ideas for our novels formed many years ago. So without further ado, I bring you the world’s newest mystery writer.
Name: Julia Munroe Martin (writing as J.M. Maison)
Name of book: Desired to Death (Book 1 of The Empty Nest Can Be Murder mystery series)
Book genre: Mystery
Date published: April 29, 2013 (ebook); paperback in about 3 weeks
Where can we find your book: Amazon
What is your day job? This is it! I am a journalist by education, worked as a technical writer for about 10 years, then as a freelance writer. Now I focus almost exclusively on fiction.
What is your book about? This book answers the question: What am I going to do with the rest of my life? After her daughter leaves for college, former-SAHM Maggie True is faced with an empty nest and doesn’t know what to do with herself. Never in her wildest dreams does small-town Maggie imagine the answer will come in the form of a middle-of-the-night call for help from an estranged friend who has just been arrested for murder. But it does, and as Maggie solves the mystery of who killed A.J. Traverso, a sexy kickboxing instructor, she also solves the mystery of what to do for the rest of her life.
Why did you want to write this book? This idea came to me after my son left for college, when I wondered what the future held. It was a very tough transition for me, especially when a few years later my daughter left for college. Going through that transition, from stay home mom AND writer to “just” work at home writer, wasn’t easy. I’ve always been the kind of person who observes and watches everything and, clearly, makes up stories about it all. And my loose ends led me to ask the question “What if?” or maybe even “If only.”
Don’t imitate. Interpret. Today’s writing tip comes from Peter Beston, an East Quoque, New York-based artist I had the pleasure of meeting during a recent taping for The Writer’s Dream. “Don’t imitate. Interpret.” It’s the advice Peter gives to aspiring painters, but of course his words can apply to any creative artist. When you imitate, you aim to replicate what another person has done; you essential take yourself out of the creative process. When you interpret, you embed your own viewpoint into your creation — you make sense of, add to, depict, question. When I think of “imitating,” I think of an assembly line, the mindless act of placing images on a canvas or sentences into a Word document — an act of the body rather than of the mind. When I think of “intepreting,” I think of a collaboration, a synergy between the mind and body. Although I’m sure there are those who believe that the act of trying to imitate alone will yield an interpretation, my feeling is that if the intention is only to duplicate what is already there, then the artist is not utilizing her most important asset: her point of view. And a well-developed point of view is what separates a beautiful work from a singular work.
Today’s guest blogger Susan Froetschel writes for YaleGlobal Online and is the author of the novel Fear of Beauty.
Bookstore staff and bloggers often ask, “Did you travel to Afghanistan to research your book?” Most seem disappointed when I suggest that imagination can produce a better tale on literacy, parenting, women’s rights and fear of globalization. As a journalist and mystery writer, I’m a huge fan of the U.S. government and its many resources. But I’m also wary about over-reliance on government-packaged research.
Some stories require extensive research. Others depend on life experiences and larger truths. Novelists who enter into research relationships must recognize that government’s highest levels will resist the stories of the renegades within their ranks. The most thrilling stories, like Argo, are about those who defy orders and follow their consciences.
This is not to say that writers should ignore government research, but they must use care in selecting details. The CIA World Factbook, with its assessments of national economies, people and trade, is a rich resource, as are the U.S. State Department fact sheets.
Some research assistance goes beyond the statistics. Consider the Entertainment Industry Liaison of the Central Intelligence Agency: “For years, artists from across the entertainment industry – actors, authors, directors, producers, screenwriters, and others – have been in touch with the CIA to gain a better understanding of our intelligence mission.” The site suggests the liaison is “in a position to give greater authenticity to scripts, stories, and other products in development” and that “To better convey that reality, the CIA is ready for a constructive dialogue with a broad range of creative talents.” The Pentagon simply provides contact info for “Producing Motion Pictures, Television Shows, Music Videos.”
I have been meaning to shoot a few promotional videos for Baby Grand to put up on my YouTube channel, so yesterday I took (dragged) my daughter, husband and youngest son with me to Hofstra University for a video shoot. My daughter is thinking about a career in directing and my oldest son has expressed an interest in video editing, so I figured why not encourage (take advantage) of these aspirations and get some publicity as well. Well, after an hour of frolicking in the sun on campus, I learned seven important lessons:
- Make sure you have a charged battery. If my husband hadn’t come along for the ride, it would have been a very (very!) short shoot. The minute my daughter, who served as camera-person, pressed record for the first take of the afternoon, the screen went black. “I had a feeling that would happen,” my husband said, pulling an extra charged battery out of his knapsack. I didn’t know if I wanted to slug him or hug him. :)
- Know your lines. I wanted to kick myself for not having memorized my script. There are so many things that are out of your control during a photo shoot, like the weather or the amount of people milling around if you’re in a public place. The last thing you should have had to worry about is knowing your lines. Lesson learned.
- Empty your memory card beforehand. Luckily, it was after an hour of shooting that my memory card screamed, “No more, please!” Otherwise, as I said in Tip #1, it would have been a very short shoot.
- Vary your shots. As an undergrad at Hofstra, I took a few television classes so I know a thing or two (but that’s it) about video production. So I had my daughter video me saying the same paragraph several times — while sitting on a bench, while walking, etc. This helps to make your video more interesting and dynamic when it’s put together in post-production.
- Have cutaways. Basically, a cutaway is a shot of something different from the main action. In my case, for example, we shot the university’s name on a sign for a few seconds and my legs walking. Cutaways are crucial to the editing process, particularly when you have talent who apparently hasn’t memorized her lines. It gives the video editor options and helps piece together different shots that wouldn’t otherwise go together so that they look cohesive.
- If you’re not going to pay your tech people, feed them. And if you’ve got anyone 10 years or younger there for the ride, it might behoove you to feed him BEFORE the photo shoot. It keeps the complaining to a minimum (and while you’re at it, bring a jacket for him too).
- Have fun. My daughter and I giggled the entire way through. “I feel like I’m in a writer horror movie!” she squealed when I asked her to walk backwards with the camera as I approached. Sure enough, we watched the playback, and it did. Perhaps an idea for my next book…